R.O.B. with the NES color scheme
|Also known as||Robotic Operating Buddy|
|Type||Video game controller|
R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), released as the Family Computer Robot[a] in Japan, is an accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was launched in July 1985 in Japan, and October 1985 in North America. Its short lifespan yielded only two games in the Robot Series: Gyromite and Stack-Up. R.O.B. was released with the intention of portraying the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as a novel toy in order to alleviate retail fears following the North American video game crash of 1983. The Deluxe Set is a boxed bundle with an NES, R.O.B., Gyromite, Zapper, and Duck Hunt. Stack-Up was later packaged separately and includes its own physical game pieces.:214
In addition to its status as a peripheral, R.O.B. has appeared in various video games, either in cameos or as a playable character.
Following the North American video game crash of 1983, many retailers had lost confidence in the video game market even while the toy market was strong. Therefore, Nintendo of America's sole marketing staff Gail Tilden was tasked with portraying the upcoming Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as an advanced toy, as opposed to a video game experience, for its October 1985 test market launch. The Family Robot, a recent 1985 niche entry in the two-year-old Famicom's aftermarket accessory lineup in Japan, was repackaged to have the NES color scheme and thrust forth as essential to the NES's new identity as a futuristic robot-powered experience instead of just a video game. Tilden said the name was "originally going to be OTTO, which was a play on the word 'auto'", but she settled on Robotic Operating Buddy or R.O.B.:213-214
Nintendo anticipated that R.O.B.'s high-technology flair was to be so crucial to the success of the NES's 1985 launch, that the toy was showcased in the first and most premium NES offering to America, the Deluxe Set. The set — which doesn't even include the new blockbuster Super Mario Bros. — is a boxed bundle with an NES, R.O.B., Gyromite, Zapper, and Duck Hunt. Soon came the second and final entry in the Robot Series, Stack-Up, along with its own physical game pieces. Then, R.O.B. and the two-game Robot Series were discontinued.:214
R.O.B. receives commands via optical flashes in the screen and uses the same optical electronics as a NES Zapper,:213 and likewise only functions correctly when coupled with a cathode ray tube (CRT) type of television. Once the screen lights up, R.O.B. is ready to receive six commands. Both Gyromite and Stack-Up include a test feature, sending an optical flash that should make R.O.B.'s LED light up.
The R.O.B. unit's height is 24 cm (9.6 in). It has a head movement range of a 45° horizontally centered tilt. The arm movement range is 240° left and right with five stopping points, 7 cm (2.75 in) up and down with six stopping points, and 7 cm (2.75 in) between hands when open. The unit has five accessory slots around the hexagonal base, numbered clockwise, starting at the rear-left from the robot's point of view; and notches on the hands allow for specialized parts to be attached for each game. The optional tinted filter can be attached over the eyes to compensate for overly bright televisions. The unit is powered by four AA batteries.
Only two officially licensed games were published for R.O.B., which comprise Nintendo's Robot Series: Gyromite and Stack-Up. According to Computer Entertainer magazine, Nintendo had plans for four other R.O.B. compatible games, but they never got released.
The Gyromite retail package consists of the following items: two claws for R.O.B.'s hands; two gyros (heavy spinning tops); two red and blue trays upon which the gyros will rest, causing buttons to be pressed on the second NES controller; one spinner motor for accelerating the gyros; and two black trays upon which the gyros are placed when not in use. Direct game mode is a feature used to learn how to use R.O.B. or to play with R.O.B. without playing the game. Gyromite is a puzzle-platformer in which the character has to collect dynamite before the time runs out, with several red and blue pillars blocking his way. In Game A, the commands are made by pressing START and then pushing the direction in which to move R.O.B., and using the A and B buttons to open and close his arms. If R.O.B. places a gyro on the red or blue button, it pushes the A or B button on the second NES controller, moving the pillar of the corresponding color. If both buttons need to be pressed at the same time, the gyros are placed in a spinner so that they will stay balanced on the button without R.O.B. holding it. Game B has the same controls, except that START does not need to be pressed to make R.O.B. accept a command.
Stack-Up comes with five trays, five different colored blocks, and two claws worn by R.O.B. for grabbing the blocks. In the Direct game mode, the player makes their block stack match with the one on screen by moving Professor Hector to the button that corresponds to the desired movement. In Memory, the player has to make a list of commands to recreate the displayed block set up, and then R.O.B. follows the list afterward. In Bingo, the player makes the shown block stack, where the color of the block does not matter. There are two enemies: one causes the player to lose a life, and the other makes R.O.B. perform undesired actions.
In 2014, independent hobbyist game developer Retrozone produced a limited release NES cartridge titled 8-Bit X-Mas 2014. The title screen features R.O.B. character graphics, and interacts with the toy by making it dance to Christmas music.
In January and February of 1986, an independent research firm's survey of 200 NES owners showed that 19% of the kids surveyed said they asked for an NES because it came with a robot. The creation and marketing of R.O.B. as a "Trojan Horse" after the North American video game crash of 1983 was placed fifth in GameSpy's twenty-five smartest moves in gaming history. Yahoo! ranked R.O.B. as one of the craziest video game controllers and noted the unfortunate fact that the peripheral only worked with two games.
Historian Chris Kohler was unimpressed with the product. "As video game controller peripherals go, R.O.B. was a particularly gimmicky one. Once the novelty of controlling a robot's arms and spinning a glorified top had worn off, usually within days or even hours, R.O.B. got in the way of enjoyment. He required battery replacements too often, and it was immediately apparent that the maze barriers in Gyromite could be turned on and off just as easily by tapping the A and B buttons on a standard controller, which was all that R.O.B.'s complicated motions ended up doing.":214
Kohler considered R.O.B.'s discontinuation to be immaterial, because the product's whole existence had been "merely a Trojan horse to get NES systems into American homes". He said "The gambit worked like a charm, and nobody missed R.O.B. or the Zapper once players realized that games played with the standard video game controller, like Super Mario Bros. were much more fun.":214
R.O.B. is featured as an unlockable character in Mario Kart DS, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, each of which refers to R.O.B. as male within their respective universes. In Brawl's adventure mode, The Subspace Emissary, R.O.B. plays a major role in the story's plot. As part of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, R.O.B. is among the Super Smash Bros. series of Amiibo, uniquely produced in both the gray and white NES color scheme and the red and white Famicom color scheme.
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